In the post-Sept. 11 world, images and impressions of Islam in the Western media have often been synonymous with extremism. To temper this, the UCLA Film and Television Archive is offering "Visualizing the Sacred: Islam on Film," an attempt to present a more inclusive look at the religion. "Obviously Islam and images of Islam in the media are a big issue these days," notes programmer Paul Malcolm. "It's just been overwhelmed by the focus on terrorism and radicalism. . . . These films show the other side of Islam and the Muslim experience."
The program, which runs this weekend through June 7 at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, was originally conceived as a showcase for films created after 2001. But Malcolm says he soon realized "that the 9/11 marker was maybe too limiting in terms of getting the kinds of films that I thought would be great for audiences to see."
One of those films is "The Message," Moustapha Akkad's 1976 epic on the birth of Islam that kicks off the series at 7:30 p.m. Friday. "We have the term 'biblical epic,' but this is a Koranic epic," explains Malcolm. Films such as "The Message" and the animated "Muhammad: The Last Prophet" (2 p.m. May 24), he adds, "are very similar to the Hollywood biblical epics of the '50s and '60s; they're part of that genre and they draw on that genre."
Both movies also tackle the challenge of portraying the prophet Muhammad when the religion forbids representations (the subject of May 17's panel discussion). "What's fascinating is that they found cinematic ways to respect religious tradition and custom while telling engaging and entertaining stories," says Malcolm. "They use . . . other ways of really expressing the powerful spiritual presence of Muhammad without actually depicting him on screen."